Defining The Challenge
HeresMyStory (HMS) is a company that focuses on delivering immersive interactive experiences for users. They use beacon technology paired with mobile devices to increase a user’s engagement with exhibitions, historically significant landmarks, and other areas in general. HMS approached us to design and prototype a digital experience that they could use to sell their vision to potential customers such as museums and parks. The app had to be easy to use, meet accessibility constraints (i.e. accessible by the hearing and/or sight impaired), and needed to work with iBeacons. This in turn would allow users to dive deeper into the stories surrounding points of interest. For the first iteration, we wanted to constraint the app to the Android operating system and to work with tablet devices. Elegant Solutions served as the design and development team for the mobile application. I was in charge of project management, user experience design, and assisting with hardware selection.
My background research focused on figuring out how users were going to interact with the beacons, and understanding the accessibility constraints that needed to be addressed. In addition, I had to get to know the values of the types of institutions and organizations that would implement this solution. We also continually asked ourselves how we could design something that visitors to an exhibition would want to use. And naturally, we wanted to keep it clean – less is more!
Laying Out The Plan
Coordinating between design and development was essential for this project. Up front, we defined several stake-holder specific user stories and used Asana to manage the project. The user specification was designed and organized with this in mind, and we emphasized the dual inputs of direct gesture and voice commands. The target customer was an institution or organization (such as the National Parks Service) that had large exhibits with multiple points of interest. The intended end-users were patrons visiting these exhibits either as individuals (typically in the 18-40 age range) or individuals visiting with their families (families being defined as 2 adults in the 25+ age range with at least one child under 18 years of age). The experience needed to cater to both profiles simultaneously.
Once the project and stakeholders were defined, we drafted some initial concepts of the tablet app. The decision was made early on to constraint the orientation to landscape for both usability and aesthetic reasons. I produced a series of rough mockups and stitched them together into a user flow diagram.
From here, Mike began creating Photoshop files of the application. Simultaneously, I began working with HMS to select beacons and tablets. General selection criteria included reliability, price, and durability. Specific to the tablets, operating system version and battery life were essential, as were audio and voice-input hardware. With the beacons, weather resistance and battery life were factored heavily into the decision. In the end, we opted to go with the Estimote iBeacon and the Google Nexus 7 tablet.
Finally, we designed a simple backend for managing audio files on the devices and pairing them with the appropriate iBeacons. This backend was simple and built using a platform called Parse.io.
Results and Final Thoughts
My involvement with the project concluded after the first version of the application was completed and in testing. Since my departure, Elegant Solutions went on to complete testing and assist HMS with implementing a pilot of the technology at the Byrd Visitor’s Center in Shenandoah National Park. The potential applications of this system are only limited by the opportunities, and we brainstormed with HMS regarding use in retail shopping centers, city-walks and tours, and various other horizontals and verticals pertaining to immersive user experiences.